Holiday Pen Pals and a Letter Writing Challenge

IMG_3620

The art of letter writing may one day be obsolete.

With the changing tides of technology it is becoming increasingly rare to sit down with a pen and paper to craft a message for someone else. I love the ease with which communication is achieved via emails and social media, but there is something special about moving a pen across a page. We open up a little more when the words pour through the ink of the pen.

As a ninth grade teacher I see the impact of technology everyday. Most of the results are great, but one thing I notice is that the generation of students I am teaching struggle with articulating their thoughts in more than 280 characters. They think of communication as tweets, emails, and videos. And because of that I fear they are losing out on the authentic experience of written communication.

It is out of this observation (and a little help from author and teacher, Kelly Gallagher) that the idea of pen pals came to me.

Over the Holiday season my ninth grade students have all been assigned a student in my husband’s fourth grade class. Each of my students made a journal for their pen pal and wrote them a letter introducing themselves and asking questions.

In our first rounds of writing my husband and I both observed high levels of engagement among our students. Even those students who neglect assignments and perform poorly in writing exercises opened up in letters to their pen pals and offered them advice that helped us to see them in a different light.

Of course, we did establish some rules for these pen pal relationships. We wanted to make sure that conversations remained appropriate and we also wanted to keep privacy a priority so students know only the first name of their pen pal.

The opportunity to write to a REAL student excited my ninth grade classes. The day after the letters they authored were due they were already asking about when to expect a response. Many of them put a lot of effort into decorating and writing in the journals and eagerly looked forward to hearing back from their new friends.

I stated on Friday that I will be undertaking the challenge of writing one letter a day for the month of December. The motivation behind this challenge comes from witnessing the way my students long for this written form of communication. If you would like to join me in that challenge check out my post Deep: Five Minute Friday and let me know in the comments.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Advertisements

Moment: Five Minute Friday

It’s Friday and I’m doing a dance for having finished another great week at school. I feel like I’m getting into a rhythm at school and I’m enjoying the process of getting to know my kids a little better. Today I am joining my fellow positive writers over at Five Minute Friday, where we gather weekly to respond to a common prompt. This Friday the prompt is Moment.

FMF-Square-Images-Round-4-4

In this moment I am…

Thankful for my faith. It keeps me grounded when the waves of this world swirl around me. I will not sink because my God is bigger than the waves.

Rejoicing over the fact that I am clear of the nasty virus that compromised my body this week.

Singing a bit of Ed Sheeran as the Pandora station became my soundtrack while grading papers today.

Smelling the hand-sanitizer a student put on just before the final bell. It smells like a fresh batch of snicker doodle cookies.

Thinking about all the things I want to get done this weekend

Walking out the door of my classroom! It’s the WEEKEND!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Spirit Week Outfits

Last week was Spirit Week at the high school where I teach. My goal was to participate (as I always do) without spending ANY money on my outfits. It was so much fun to coordinate with the themes chosen by the Student Council.

IMG_3244.PNG

Below is a look at what I came up with each day.

Monday: Superhero Day

IMG_3263

My husband had an old Superman shirt that he bought years ago at Walmart. I found it in his closet (it was an XL–which is even too big for him) and I tied it up to make it look less massive and more “cute.” I also wore cropped jeans paired with converse Sperrys in navy blue.

Tuesday: Tacky Tourist Day

IMG_3266

I wore a loud floral print shirt with khakis. I borrowed a floppy beach hat from my cousin and the Michael Kors fanny pack was bummed from a former student. To complete the look I wore strappy sandals that didn’t really match the colors in the rest of my outfit. This was probably my favorite of the outfits for the week.

Wednesday: Grease/College Day

IMG_3272

Our school’s annual college fair was scheduled for Wednesday night and so while the students were dressing like characters from Grease the staff was to wear college gear to promote the event. My sister recently moved to Canada to study at Brock University and she sent me this t-shirt so I could talk to my students about her school. I paired the college tee with army green pants and a cardigan with fall hues.

Thursday: Disney Day

IMG_3282

I joined a gaggle of teachers who dressed as dalmatians from 101 Dalmatians. I used my Cricut to cut out the spots and safety-pinned them to my white t-shirt. I put my hair in two high buns to make dog-ears. For my bottoms, I wore black leggings with shorts over top and black Toms.

Friday: Blue and Gold Day

IMG_3287

To show school spirit I wore a crew neck sweatshirt, blue and gold earrings, cropped jeans, and my navy converse Sperrys.

Which outfit is your favorite?

Go Vikings!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Crowd: Five Minute Friday

Here I am…another week of showing up late to the party. I had the best of intentions to post before school on Friday, but a six-month-old had her own plans for my morning. So here I am, Saturday afternoon, in my office space, drinking in the silence of a resting household and joining my crew of positive writers over at Five Minute Friday. This week the prompt is Crowd. Here is my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing:

24-e1535455500746

My eyes follow the crowd of students gathered in the hallway. Glancing from left to right I catch a glimpse of half a dozen wanderers. Our vision locks if only for a split second, but that time tells me all I need to know.

Some of those eyes crease to smile back at me. Some drop straight to the floor. Others quickly glance away pretending that they never locked with me in the first place. It’s easier that way. If they can pretend no one saw then they don’t have to share that pain they carry like the backpack on their shoulders.

But I see through all of that.

Those who want to be seen–I see you. I celebrate all that you are and I dream for you and all you will be.

Those who look down–you are not just another face in the crowd. You are special and I won’t let you slip through the cracks.

Those who pretend that they didn’t see me–I know the weight of this world and I can help you bear it.

May the students I come in contact with every day know that they are cared for and loved. May they know that though they stand in a crowd that they are one-of-a-kind. May they fight the urge to look away. May they let our glances meet for a moment and may my heart say a prayer as eyes meet.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Anniversary: Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday is a weekly link-up where a community of bloggers crafts a post based on a common topic. This week the topic is Anniversary. To check out the rest of the community and their posts click here. Now on to my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing:

FF-Square-Images-Round-4-21.jpg

Next week I will begin my eighth school year as a teacher.

I cannot believe how fast time has gone. It feels like yesterday that my twenty-one-year-old self was nervously entering the teaching field. At the time I was unprepared and naive. I learned quickly to adapt to the demands of the job that college couldn’t prepare me for. My biggest challenge that first year was my age. My students weren’t much younger than I was. Because of that, I struggled with classroom management (although I’m pretty sure every first year teacher does.)

I did grow a lot that first year. By the end, I started to gain confidence.

Over the years I’ve fallen more in love with my job. My colleagues, friends, and students give me reason to go to work each day. I’m inspired by the people I’ve met and the kindness that exists at my school.

It’s been seven months since I last stood in front of a classroom of students. Those months were spent cuddling and bonding with my newborn. As I stare at the end of this blessed maternity leave I am reminding myself that if I have to leave my baby at least it is for something I love with people I also love. My teaching community will surround me with the love I need to get back at it. And I am looking forward to the adventures that this eighth school year will bring.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Teachers Pay Teachers?

 

Writing effective lesson plans is time consuming. Making learning at the high school level fun and engaging for students requires even more. This year I’ve been focusing on student engagement and getting my students more involved in both the English and History courses that I teach.

It’s taken more time than usual, but my results have been phenomenal. Overall, the students this year have bought into their education more so than those of the past. They are motivated to learn when I get out of the lecture rut and put them in charge of discovering ideas on their own.

During the last two weeks my English students have completed reading projects and a Socratic Seminar. I was so pleased with the results of  both. Students blew away the expectations and made me proud. Going to school is so much more fun when my students are happy and looking forward to class.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about opening a shop on Teachers Pay Teachers, a site where I could sell my lesson plans and classroom activities. I’m looking for advice from other teachers out there.

Is it worth it to package and sell lessons that have been successful in my own classroom? 

I’ve had an account with Teachers Pay Teachers for a few years. At this point all I’ve ever done is buy lessons, but I have a few of my own that might be beneficial to others. Any feedback is welcome and will be appreciated.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Teaching: Are We Releasing Too Soon?

img_4607

“Why are these scores so low? I showed them how to do this!”

Many of us have had reflective conversations with ourselves or colleagues drenched in comments similar to the one above. It’s frustrating to go through a process step-by-step with students only to turn them loose and receive a less than desirable assignment in return.

We reason that there must be something wrong with “this class” or we justify these behaviors saying that, “this group must be lazy.” In reality, it may not be a lack of effort on the students’ end, but rather the lethargy may actually stem from the teacher’s planning.

Gone are the days where the role of the teacher was to spew information while students collected it in tidy notebooks. With the onslaught of technology, our students have been transformed from information collectors in to information seekers. Our world has shaped learning to be far more productive in a problem solving scenario than in a catch-and-release system.

I recently attended a Vertical Alignment session with my district Curriculum Director where we looked at best practices throughout our English classrooms in the district. Being a high school teacher confined to fifty minute periods has produced many obstacles in creating a balance between Reading, Writing, and Language instruction. In a perfect world, I would tackle all three areas of ELA in a single class period, but that’s just not the reality of my classroom. I feel stifled by time restraints and frustrated when I cannot see my students making the progress I anticipate to see. Based on my scores from last year’s standardized tests I have added to my curriculum, but fitting everything in before March seems an impossibility.

As a teacher passionate about my content, I’ve been wounded by my student performance these last few years. Like anyone would, I have started to blame the group of students or blame their previous teachers, but the truth is if I’m trying to point blame I should look no further than my own lesson plans.

I read the article Releasing Responsibility by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey at the PD this week. What stuck out to me the most was the idea of Gradual Release of Responsibility.

frey2011_fig1-2

(Photo: ASCD)

Thinking back to my college days in my cluttered dorm room I can remembering cracking open my book of Educational Psychology and studying Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development. It is something that is so ingrained in my brain that I’ve actually forgotten all about it. I know that asking a student to work independently on something before they are ready is a recipe for disaster. I know that in order for students to work alone they must receive a focused lesson, guided instruction, and collaboration first, but when I think back to my frustrations with their performance I feel convicted because somewhere along the line I’ve skipped some steps.

As teachers we feel pressure from all directions, but nothing is worse than the pressure of time. Because of time constraints, I’ve recognized that sometimes I revert back to the old schoolhouse method of standing in front of the class, giving them notes, and then expecting them to complete an assignment or homework without any further practice. That isn’t setting them up for success.

The way to beat this slump is to narrow the content of your class. Find the standards that are pivotal for your course and focus on those and the skills necessary for mastery of those standards. When you have five things you are committed to accomplishing instead of forty you feel less pressure to move quickly allowing for a timeline that eases into the release of responsibility.

Designing lessons and units should be centered around these principles and not the curriculum maps or units of study prescribed by a textbook. (In fact, you may not even need that old textbook at all.)

At the high school level what does a lesson look like from each of these stages of the Gradual Release of Responsibility? In a focused lesson, a teacher may introduce new terms, show a video, distribute a notes page with ideas, read a story, or re-inact the setting or plot of the content being read. Guided instruction involves letting the students see your thinking processes. This means vulnerability in many cases, but students will learn most during this phase if you admit your weaknesses and provide modeling of your use of the skill they are working toward. Collaboration is giving your students a scenario or problem to work through with peers to help them gain experience and confidence in the focus area. Activities for small groups should always be things that they could not do independently. Nothing is more frustrating than to be placed in a group to do something you could have done more efficiently on your own. Design a little stretch or challenge into your collaborative assignments.

Finally, after all three stages have been mastered, then you may begin the independent stage of the instruction. This phase is absolutely necessary and should never be skipped, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t the second stage. Lesson delivery isn’t followed by independent work.

If you are anything like me you may just need a reminder that dates, timelines, and tests shouldn’t dictate your lesson plans. Learning is the goal and should be the instrument to measure your progression through content. At the high school level the middle stages of the model above are often left behind an forgotten. We complain that our students aren’t motivated and they don’t enjoy school, but designing lessons that challenge them in all stages of learning will reignite their passion for your content and their performance on various forms of assessments.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Dressing and Educating: Days 6-10

IMG_3618

Day 6: August 22, 2016

My first true Monday of the school year and I caught the struggle bus on the way to school. I forgot just how short a two day weekend feels. I really needed to replenish my lost sleep from last week, but I had a sick child all weekend–so that did not happen.

Adjusting to my new schedule is also exhausting me. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my students and getting back into the routine of going to work, but by midway through the day my energy level tanks. This year 4 of the 6 classes I teach are back-to-back in the morning and I eat lunch with only two periods remaining in the day. The front end of my day is hectic and it takes a lot of willpower to keep from taking a nap instead of eating lunch during my break. I’m still in adjustment mode as I align my body to this new schedule.

For my Monday attire I went for my navy and white Market and Spruce dress from Stitch Fix. I paired this dress with a draping vest and Sperrys. I also liked the way my Premier jewelry brought some much needed brightness to this outfit.

IMG_3630

Day 7: August 23, 2016

The theme of the day was data. From the beginning of my first class period until the end of the final bell my day consisted of students taking tests to give me data points and analyzing data from previous school years and standardized tests. Twice today I met with my data teams to interpret numbers and to make plans for moving forward. I felt like every other word out of my mouth all day was a synonym for data.

For an English and History teacher a day of data analysis was akin to a pulsating migraine. In fact, it actually caused a bit of one midway through the day. By the time my lunch period rolled around I found myself craving caffeine. I almost gave in to that desire, but kept myself busy to avoid hopping in my car and driving to the nearby Tim Hortons. I worked through my lunch period (I may have to explain a little soup spill on my data sheets), and I logged over 12,000 steps before I finally made it home.

On a more positive note, I’m beginning to recall student names and faces and some of their personalities are starting to sneak through their scared freshman facade. I shared a few laughs with some classes today and thoroughly enjoyed discussions with my honors students about how they want the class to be taught.

It was school picture day. I have no idea why I stress more over picture day as a teacher than I did back in my day as a pupil, but I do. Last night I laid out several outfits and decided on my chambray top I received from Stitch Fix and a pair of red jeggings. I’m so glad I had my gray lace Toms to get me through a day of running to every corner of my large campus. They were almost as imperative as the term “data” was to my vocabulary today.


Day 8: August 24, 2016

Pre-assessment day!

I spent a majority of my day administering pretests and evaluating those pretests. I used each class period to score the one before and spent just about three quarters of my day reading student essays.

I always find it interesting the knowledge my students bring to my course.

Today I wore LulaRoe leggings, my navy tunic from The Limited, and a pair of silver flats I bought two years ago for my sister’s wedding. It was a comfortable, yet professional look for the day.

Also, I took several photos this morning, but I had to laugh about the one above. Right as the camera took the shot another teacher popped in the room and caught me red handed. I had to explain to him what I’m doing on the blog and I’m pretty sure he left my room contemplating my sanity.


Day 9: August 25, 2016

With pre-assessments Out of the way I’m now free to begin teaching my course content. I introduced new vocabulary today, had students analyze an article in small groups, and had a chance to really observe student interaction. I loved seeing personalities come out for the first time this year as students were given permission to ask questions and to go a little deeper with ideas specific to the courses I teach.

Today, I also enjoyed visiting with some former students during their study halls. It means a lot to me when students from previous years make the time to stop by the freshman building to see me and fill me in on their lives.

Today I wore black skinny dress pants from The Limited, a blue tank top, and a cardigan I purchased this summer in England at Primark. I completed my outfit with my favorite black and white Sperrys.

IMG_3746.JPG

Day 10: August 26, 2016

My first casual Friday!

You have to love the days when you can dress down at work. Although I love getting all dressed up throughout the week Fridays are always a breath of fresh air as I can create outfits that are more functional for my active teaching style. Everyday I log over 10,000 steps before lunch time. I rarely sit during class periods. I use a lot of energy throughout my day. Because I’m such an active teacher I love to wake up and throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Most Friday’s I wear shirts that display my school spirit, but today I decided to go for a different look.

As you can see above I wore a Classic T from LulaRoe and my dark denim is from Charlotte Russe’s line and there I go again with my classic Sperrys boat shoe. I dressed the casual look up just a bit with a long beaded necklace and a gold bracelet from Premier.

At the end of my second week I can now say I’ve learned all my student first names, graded at least one assignment per class, and begun teaching content in both of my courses. I’m starting to get into a rhythm for the year and some of the students are beginning to open up just a little bit. I’m excited about the school year and all 170 days that lie ahead.

Thank goodness for the weekend so I can catch up on some sleep and much needed family time.

Here’s a quick recap of my outfits this week. Which is your favorite?:

The Ameri Brit Mom

Five Minute Friday: Expect

This week the topic for the Five Minute Friday link-up post is Expect. What is a link-up? Essentially a link-up is when you join other bloggers and write on a similar topic. You share your blog posts with one another and begin conversations via a host site. You can head over to Kate Motaung’s page to check out other entries from inspired bloggers. Here’s my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing on this week’s topic:

its-a-girl-600x600

All that lies between myself and summer vacation is three days. Next Wednesday the students will leave my classroom for the final time. When I think about that moment I’m overcome because it has been a great year, but I am also excited for all that the summer holds for my family.

I’m expecting a long, fun summer full of family activities, travel, and lots of reading.

I’m expecting joy.

I’m expecting rest.

I’m expecting love.

I’m looking forward to a mini-trip to Chicago in nineteen days. Long car rides, sight seeing, and trying new foods are always full of wonderful memories. I expect that trip to be full of them.

I’m excited about spending a month in the summer back at my husband’s home in England. It’s always nice to get away and catch up with our family across the sea.

I’m also ecstatic about not having to grade essays, projects, or late work for a whole three months!

Here’s to summer 2016.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Teaching Writing: Five Things You Need to Survive

Whoever said teaching writing is dull has never been inspired by some of the writing greats like Kelly Gallagher, George Hillocks Jr, and Donalyn Miller. These three people have heavily influenced my take on the teaching of writing. My first two years of teaching I struggled to capture the interest of my students while adhering to state mandated standards, but after studying theories and ideas from these three experts I’ve revamped my program and teaching writing has become an enjoyment. Reading their works have also made me a more confident writing teacher.

Currently, my students are working on an essay entitled, Five Things You Need to Survive in Lynn’s World. This assignment is based on the novel Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis which all regular education ninth grade students are reading at my school. I did a book review of this novel last spring as I prepared the unit. Check it out!

In order for my students to get a handle on what I was asking for in this informative essay I provided them a copy of the humorous essay from the Huffington Post, 10 Essentials for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: A Practical Guide by John Hornor Jacobs. As a small group they read through the article and highlighted language and ideas that stood out to them.

Then, in their groups they used the model essay to develop a plan of their own. They created a T-chart in their writing notebooks emulating some of the same styles used by John Hornor Jacobs, but applying his principles to their assignment. That assignment was to write an informative essay about five things needed to survive in the world of Lynn, the protagonist of Not a Drop to Drink.

This assignment is a fun approach to informative writing sprinkled with a bit of humor. Students are working in small groups to write the essay where each student is responsible for one paragraph or item from the list of necessities for survival. Also, like the model essay students are expected to think outside of the box when choosing their items. They are not allowed to use water, fire, or shelter as an item required for survival.

GoogleDocs is the platform we are using for the assignment as it allows several students to work on the same document at the same time. They are all able to use Chromebooks to work on their individual portion of the whole and they have instant access to editing tools, their peers.

This is the first time I’ve done this assignment and so far I am pleased with the how things are going. The students are engaged because they’ve already fallen in love with the text.They are also performing their own tasks as a member of a team.

This assignment serves as an introduction to informative writing. Plans have been laid for individual informative assignments, however, working in small groups is a stepping stone to writing on their own.

I’m excited to see the final products when the editing process is complete.

Modified copy of IMG_2169